September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands)
Panama

Tom and I didn’t realize we were entering a giant, open air health and fitness spa when we arrived in the San Blas Islands. That’s exactly what this place feels like. It’s an archipelago of more than 300 islands bounded by clean, pure air. You can’t imagine breathing more unpolluted airs. Not an automobile, nor a factory nor development for hundreds of miles in either direction. Our lungs must be pinker than they’ve ever been.

The crystal blue, unadulterated, warm waters surrounding the islands house variegated coral reefs that are alive with an underwater fairyland of endless variety hosting a multitude of impossibly pretty fish. Striped and spotted ones in brilliant and surprising coloration, angel, damsel, convict, parrot fish every which way you look; here a spotted eagle ray, there a somnolent barracuda, as if suspended and further on, a huge school of swarming, silent silver beauties.

Just below the surface you can find what looks like a garden in bloom with daubs of bright alongside muted colours, elegant feathery fronds and lovely, lacy fans bowing and waving with the current, rounds of brain like clumps, tubes, branches and bushes, and throngs of small creatures flitting to and fro amongst them. It’s hard to believe that these plant like coral formations are actually animals with muscles and nerves, very simple living forms, way down near the base of the tree of life.

You can’t help but spend hours in this wonderland, gazing in awe at the miracle of nature, getting exercise you don’t even realize you are getting. At the end of the day, your muscles feel the exertion, your body feels fit.

I have to admit though that I did get a terrible fright during one of my underwater explorations. Tom was out of sight ahead of me with his pole spear, hoping to snag dinner. I was admiring the surroundings with the dinghy tethered to my waist so the ‘great white hunter’ had a place to drop his catch. Literally out of the blue and heading directly for me was a large SHARK! Blinking through quickly fogging mask I confirmed the reality of the shocking vision that YES, it was steering my way, fast, and in an instant, pulled the painter toward me and launched myself gracelessly into the dinghy, like a beached seal, panting, but safe and unscathed.

In retrospect I realize I was probably needlessly alarmed. It was likely a grey nurse shark of which our Guide to Fishes (E.M. Grant) states “The Grey Nurse probably bears a worse reputation than it deserves, for there is no record or evidence linking this species with any unprovoked shark attack.” But the thought of that legendary creature making a beeline directly for little old me still makes me shudder.

And you eat well, very well. We were told to be fully provisioned for our stay in the San Blas, “and be prepared for doing without fruits and vegetables” many who’d visited years before, informed us. That proved to be all wrong. Perhaps it’s a recent phenomenon, but when in the islands these days, the store comes to you!

Regularly, the “Veg Boats” from Nargana or Porvenir, the two main villages, make the rounds in the islands, servicing the boats with not only fresh fruits and vegetables straight from gardens, but also eggs, rice, flour, UHT milk, water, coca cola, snacks, cereal, coffee, and sometimes even boxes of wine and beer.

Fresh fish is a mainstay on the menu, fish you catch yourself or buy from the local Kunas, or lobster, crab or conch, depending on what’s available in the particular locale you find yourself in.

In one area, we came upon a football field of large conch, so couldn’t resist taking one for our evening meal. The meat from that one shell was more than enough to feed the two of us. The tricky part was getting the beast out of that hard shell. With much difficulty, and a little bit of help from The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot, Tom managed to do it. (See below for recipe.)

Bread is fresh daily too- either Kuna bread delivered to the boat if available or home baked stove top galley bread baked aboard Feel Free. This recently procured recipe from Vely of Lady in Red is a revelation- no kneading, no mess, no long waiting for the rises. It’s very simple, fast and tasty and uses only 3 cups of flour and a minimal amount of propane. The old recipe I used for many years called for 7 cups of flour and was almost an all day procedure with the kneading and risings, and oven baking, so this recipe is a godsend. (See below for stove top bread recipe.)

The distant rumble of ocean waves against the windward side of the islands, the slap slap of water caused by a fish feeding frenzy near the boat, the squawking and singing of birds, the whir of the boat’s wind generator: these are the sounds you hear. The anchorages are protected by the islands and reefs and winds blow consistently from offshore during the winter months. Result: there is little rocking and rolling, a nice breeze flows through the cabin, and all combine to allow you to have long, uninterrupted sleeps at night.

Clean air, lots of exercise, good food, sound sleep, what else does this Kuna Yala ‘health spa’ offer? Well, lots of socializing if you want it. Here, it’s a sunset dinghy-drift, raft-up party in an area dubbed “alligator alley” by the long time San Blas cruisers, next to the anchorage known as the “swimming pool” which is next to another one called the “hot tub”. These are probably the most popular hang-outs for cruisers who enjoy the company of others.

On the other hand, if you prefer, you can have privacy in your very own secluded anchorage, next to your own private uninhabited island, of which there are many. We enjoy both situations. The San Blas Islands have definitely been discovered but not so much so that you can’t get away from the crowd if you want to. You can have the best of both worlds.

Few people live on these small, remote islands but those that do live a quiet, peaceful life. They stay on the small islands mainly for short periods of time, camping while tending the coconut groves and other pursuits away from their main villages where they live the majority of the year.

Each village claims certain areas for coconuts and they take turns tending them. Their law that the land belongs to all Kunas has prevented a division into “haves” and “have nots” and they believe themselves to be “blessed co-owners of their wonderful country” (Zydlers’ The Panama Guide). It certainly sounds like a fine philosophy if it works and it does appear to.

From our vantage point aboard Feel Free, we observe the men and boys heading out in their sailing ulus early in the morning. All day long they fish, chop wood or tend their gardens on nearby islands or the mainland. They return mid afternoon carrying produce, wood, fish, coconuts, lobster.

On shore, the women and girls are busy with domestic chores, laundry, food preparation, mola making.

Their water is obtained from wells for laundry, showers and cooking. Drinking water has to be procured elsewhere or through water catchment. Our laundry was piling up so Eli from High Spirits and I got permission to use the well at one of the islands. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

It’s a simple but rich lifestyle here in Kuna Yala. Luckily, we have the luxury of time and we feel so very fortunate to be able to live in its fullness.

Recipe for Conch Patties

First, tenderize the meat to produce ‘bruise conch’, using a small metal mallet with pyramid shaped spikes on the face to beat the meat into a broad thin patty. Then chop it into small bits.

conch meat

flour

egg

seasonings

vegetable oil

onion, chopped

green or red peppers, chopped

Mix equal amounts of chopped conch and vegetables with enough beaten egg and flour to form an adhesive blend. Add seasonings to taste. Form batter into patties and fry in hot oil until brown. Served here with couscous and papaya, tomatoes and cucumbers.


Stove top bread
(thanks to Vely of Lady in Red)

Put in large bowl and let stand until bubbly (about 10 minutes):

2 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon yeast, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt

Add 3 cups flour, ½ cup at a time. Stir with wooden spoon and blend until smooth. Oil the inside of pressure cooker or pot very well and dust with corn meal making sure to leave a thick layer on bottom. Now pour the bread dough into pot. Let rise to double in size (about 30-35 minutes), then put lid on cooker (no pressure). Turn burner on low heat and cook 30 to 35 minutes. Take lid off and turn upside down, allowing to stand until bread falls down. The top of the bread may look wet as if not cooked but it will be moist and spongy to the touch. Turn it over and cook top 5 to 10 minutes to brown if you wish. Add flax seed, millet, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds or raisins for variety.